By Paul Rubin
Suns game just finished, as did the season... Heart finally slowing to a more survivable rate, but the inner heart--the one that beats more intensely as the soul of a season slowly reveals itself---isn't doing so great at the moment. Terrific game when the Spurs weren't employing the hack-a-Shaq or the hack-a-Skinner and slowing things down to a crawl, but whatever. Don't want to think much about the ways the Suns could have won this game. This series, really.
Speaking of O'Neal, the Big One definitely ain't what he used to be, but he was just fine out there, and no one should cast too much blame on him for the team's terrible first-round demise. Many Phoenix fans inevitably will blame the refs, though the zeebs didn't do in the team (even though blue-collar defender Bruce Bowen pushed Steve Nash in the back on that weird pass in the corner near the end of the game when the Suns had a momentary chance to take the lead).
Nash displayed his typically big heart throughout, but was fairly awful for most of the game, just out of synch and not in charge of the proceedings, as he's been since the day in 2004 that he signed on as a free-agent. The little man is about a step slower than he used to be, and that's that. It didn't help Nash that the Suns decided to run the offense through forward Boris Diaw most of the time, but that was strategy that worked in Game 4. As for Nash, see ya in the Hall of Fame.
Amare Stoudemire did some out-of-nowhere magical defensive things--blocks, wonderful stops on the great Duncan, but it was too little, and much too late.
Grant Hill was dressed GQ-civilian on the sidelines, injured yet again in what has been a top-drawer career that could have been so much greater if not for the cruel vagaries of a physically demanding sport. The former All-Star sat mutely at the end of the game looking like one of those sad-eyed Ted DeGrazia paintings, wanting so much to be out there on the floor that it left him emotionally spent.
A few feet from Hill on the bench at the end was Leandro Barbosa, last year's NBA "Sixth Man of the Year." He, too, was unable to contribute at the end, but not because of injury. He just wasn't up to competing at the level it would have taken to put away a championship team that plays like a cool jazz combo in a smoky club, always ready to bounce with the moment and make it their own.
Diaw's excellent final two games of the season proved he's worth every bit of the $45 million that the Suns will have paid him by the end of his contract. Just kidding. Especially when the memory of former Suns power forward Kurt Thomas--who contributed often and so importantly to the Spurs over the five games--is etched so painfully in the consciousness. Remember, the Suns essentially gave the veteran Thomas to Seattle last summer to save the $16 million it would have owed him over two seasons. Thomas then ended up with San Antonio, where he serves a vital role on an aging team that obviously has something left in its tank.
Coach Mike D'Antoni--one of the world's nice guys--coached the hell out of this one. But it didn't happen for him or his team when it counted, and he is likely to be terminated sooner than later. We're talking his job, folks, not his death, though vile threats e-mailed to GM Steve Kerr after the Shaq trade a few months ago, detailed in last week's cover story, hint at the malevolence that some idiots bring to the mix.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
That the Suns couldn't survive the first round cost the franchise literally millions of dollars in revenue, something that majority owner Robert Sarver--a banker in his "real" life--most certainly won't take lightly.
On the afternoon of Phoenix's worst game of this nutty season, which unquestionably was last Friday's thrashing by San Antonio, an old boy sitting at the bar at Alexi's (a cool restaurant on Central) gave Steve Kerr a friendly and unsolicited piece of advice. The gent suggested that Kerr sign Michael Jordan to a playing contract for the rest of the season. Kerr said drolly that he'd think about it, but noted his old Chicago Bulls teammate is 47 years old, or something close to it. No big deal, the guy replied. We could use his heart.
Tonight, the Suns didn't need any more heart, just a few more kick-ass bodies and few more clutch plays. Championship teams win games like the one the Spurs won tonight, and also the ones they grabbed in games one and two (Game One lingers like a very bad dream, doesn't it?). In the end, the Suns couldn't do it. It's not the end of the world, even in the wacky, overdone land of sports that many of us reside in much of the time.
Windows open, windows close. This one's shut until next year.